Tuesday, April 18, 2017

15 Questions You Wish You Had Asked When You Were Interviewing

Over the years, many candidates have told me that they found out things once they started a new job that they wish they had discovered while interviewing.  These questions apply to everyone at every level.  If you can find out this information, you will be able to make a much more informed decision as to whether or not to take a job.

1)     What is the number one reason for turn-over at my level at this company?
It would be great to determine what or where employee dissatisfaction comes from.  Glass door could be a help, but meeting other contemporaries at the company while interviewing might yield a treasure trove of information.

2)     While I am meeting the senior executives during this interview process, what      is their involvement in the business I am being interviewed for?
Many people tell me that they had to meet the senior management while interviewing and then never saw them again.  Not a good sign.

3)     Does senior management like the business I am being hired for?
Terrible to get hired and afterwards find out that senior management is not involved and does not like the client you are being hired to handle

4)     Would my clients willingly be a reference for this agency?
If the clients do not like the agency/company, it should be a yellow light signal.  It is one reason why you may want to meet your client before accepting a job.

5)     Are there any other accounts that are in jeopardy now?
Be wary if there are businesses in jeopardy.  It could significantly affect your employment.  I once had a young assistant account executive fired on his first day of work because the agency lost another large account.

6)     What are the biggest conflicts among management at this company?
Terrible to find out after you are hired that the management team does not get along or that they have differing points of view on direction.  Best to find out, if possible, before you start.

7)     If there were a strategic disagreement between account management and  creative management, who would win?
Best to find out before you start where the power lies.  If you are an account person and creatives control, you must meet the creatives you will be working with.  And vice versa – creatives don’t normally interview with senior account people, but if the account group controls, best to find out in advance what they are about.

8)     If offered this job why should I take it?
Let the company sell you on them.  Where do they see you and how will you progress. This is true at every level.

9)    How will I be evaluated?
This is a critical question to find out before starting work.  It lays out the criteria you will need in order to achieve advancement.

10)  What problem(s) do you want me to solve/resolve?
This should give you clear direction before you start and will give you criteria against which to measure your own success.

11)  What tools will I be given to resolve those problems?
Will you have control of your budget?  If there are client problems, will you be able to establish a relationship?  I can think of one executive who was told that he should not visit the client so often because the client was in a different city and the travel budget was low.

12)  How extensive will my authority be? 
Can you make the decisions to hire and fire staff?  I was once the head of account management at an agency with a terrible account group and the president of the agency would not let me clean house.

13)  Why me?
This small question packs a big wallop.  It will give you insights into what the company has in store for you as well as where they see you going.

14)  What will be my security if I accept a job here?
Most companies do not give contracts, except to their most senior employees, but you should find out what their plans are for you.  This information can become part of an offer letter.

15)  What can I do to stand out from the other employees at my level?
You need to find out if you are special or just part of the herd, especially at larger companies.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

How To Find A Great Mentor When Interviewing

Almost every successful executive will tell you that they had a mentor.  Mentors are people who can not only teach you, but who can help move and promote you.  The best mentors are found when you interview, but they can also be found as you work for a company - the trick is to identify them.

It doesn’t matter if you are an account assistant or a president, we all report to someone.  The smarter those people are, the more you will learn. So the trick is to find wise people who you can learn from.

Hopefully, you can find these people when you are interviewing, generally not your immediate supervisor (mostly not senior enough to be a true mentor), but someone who is in your chain of command.  And, if not, once you take a job you can identify people who will take an interest in your career.

To find and identify these people may require some work.  The first thing you need to do is identify them. To help, I am going to give you my favorite saying (an Arabic Proverb):

He Who Knows
He who knows not and knows not that he knows not,
Is a fool, shun him.
He who knows not and knows that he knows not,
Is simple, teach him.
He who knows and knows not that he knows,
Is asleep, awaken him.
He who knows and knows that he knows,
Is wise, follow him.

By this definition, we all know many fools.  So how do we identify the people we want to work for?

First, ask tough, direct questions while you are interviewing.  There is no reason you can’t turn the interview around and interview the interviewer. You must be able to engage them in a real conversation so you can ask them how they got to where they are. Their answers and their attitude will help you determine if, in fact, they can become a mentor.  Ask them what they think of the business.  Ask them what they would change if they were the president of their company. Ask what they are proud of accomplishing in business.  Finally, ask how they would teach you or how you can learn from them. You want to determine that you are more than just a body to fill a role. (If you are afraid to ask these questions, there is probably a lack of chemistry and they will just be your boss, not your mentor).

If the company is right, but your supervisor is not going to be your mentor, you must get exposure to others in the company who will take an interest in your career. Sometimes it is your bosses boss.  Often it is someone else in the company.  If you can, identify those people and then find ways of contacting and connecting with them, so that they can know who you are and what you are capable of. You can always simply introduce yourself.

It is essential to your career that you have a mentor who believes in you.  I had one who constantly volunteered me for tough assignments he knew I could do. It got me management exposure and it helped make me a senior vice president when I was in my late twenties.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

What The New NYC Law Making It Illegal To Ask for Salary History Mean For You

For years I have actually been telling candidates not to fill out their salary history on written applications.  It is no one’s business.  Yesterday, the New York City Council wisely made it law that companies cannot ask for or use this information while hiring.  Its purpose is to help close the gender pay gap.  The law takes effect in 90 days. 

Just two weeks ago, I wrote why recruiters need salary information. I stand by that post.  However, I am firmly in favor of equal pay and, if salary history is used to suppress pay for any employee, it is wrong.  Companies will and have done anything they can to keep salaries as low as possible – it is the largest single expense of any employer.

This law is a specious law which, by itself, will not help women to earn more.  However, I am totally in favor of any method which will help prevent pay discrimination. For honest companies and honest recruiters, salary is one method of putting a career in perspective. I, for one, have never used this information to pay women less than men.  My head just doesn’t work this way. However, I do know that companies will find a way around this question.  The law, as I understand it, allows people to volunteer this information – companies will find a nice way of getting their applicants to provide it. One way would simply be to ask a job applicant if the anticipated salary on a particular job is ok with the candidate.

Prospective employees generally do not withhold any information.  Companies have always found a way of determining marital status, ethnicity and age despite the fact that asking is illegal.
In advertising, I actually do not see a gender pay gap at any level.  In my observation, male and female executives in account management, media management, planning and creative are making similar salaries. These days, for both men and women, advertising salaries are low compared to many other professions.  Because of long hours and low pay, working in advertising is a labor of love.  We all know that if one is looking for money, there are many other fields which pay better.  I have advised many candidates, both male and female, to reject jobs which pay too low.

There is, however, a glass ceiling – there are too few women in the C suites of the big agencies.  That is the bigger issue.  And because there are too few women at that level, it is difficult to make comparisons between their pay and those of their male counterparts.

But this law may be a step in the right direction for many companies.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Interviewing: "I Came Back Four Times In A Week, Expected An Offer And Then Heard Nothing"

I thought I would explain what happens when a company rushes its candidates through the interviewing process and then there is total silence - it seems to die.  Unfortunately, this happens frequently. What happens is that the hiring manager finds a candidate he or she likes, then rushes him or her through the process and then, once they identify the person they want to hire, they can't get permission to hire.  Then, there is nothing.  Complete silence.  It can go on for days, weeks or even longer until the candidate is forgotten by the company or the candidate gives up on the job.  The result is negative PR for the company. 

Here is what happens.

Most companies do not have a “sign-on” procedure to start the interviewing process, but most have a “sign-off” system to finalize the hire.  So they start interviewing.

Hiring managers are generally in more of a hurry to get someone on board than the company management.  After all, when they need an employee to get work done, they need him or her now.  Once they find someone they have to get a final approval to hire.  Unfortunately, most companies have a sign-off process prior to final commitment.  

A small part of what happens is that CFO’s understand that if they can hold up, say, a $60,000 executive for two weeks, that puts $2,500 right to the bottom line.  But it isn’t as simplistic as that.  Sometimes the people needed to sign-off on the hire are not immediately available. (I have had occasions that I have waited over a month before getting permission to extend an offer.) During the waiting period there is usually absolute silence.  

Then there are other considerations. Often, companies need to wait for a new account to come in so that the new hire is funded.  Sometimes, hiring a new person requires dismissing an existing employee or moving a current employee to another position.  That may take time because that process is usually not started until a new person is found.  And it can often take weeks to accomplish.  And then there is the problem of internal candidates who generally get first consideration.  Rarely are any of these considerations told to or explained to a candidate who is waiting to get hired.  Companies are reluctant to communicate unless there is something definitive to say.

In this day and age of computers and applicant tracking systems, there is no excuse for the candidate to be left in limbo.  An explanation should always be given to the applicant.  Unfortunately, people tend to wait for new information before speaking to a candidate.  That information may be promised for a particular date, but the exigencies of the business cause it to be delayed, sometimes with the promise of “tomorrow”.  So the tendency is to wait for new news before contacting the candidate.  Sometimes that news just never comes and, unfortunately, the candidate is forgotten.  (It happens with recruiters as well – companies which have expressed an interest in a candidate just never get back to their recruiters either.  I always feel stupid when I have to tell candidates that I have been calling and emailing but have not heard a single word and can’t get the company to give me information or feedback.)

Human nature being what it is, time passes and a person who has been rushed through the process actually gets forgotten.  It happens in every company in every industry.  I truly believe that a human resources person should be assigned to track and be responsible for all candidates so that they can be kept up to date.  A simple phone call or email to a candidate, even if it is to say there is no news, can go a long way towards good public relations.

Managing the expectations of people who are hoping to work at a company is simply polite and good business.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Nine Correctable Reasons Why HR Gets Poor Marks

There are really good people in human resources. And they all too often get a bum wrap.  Often, it is because of lack of training and often it is because they are given far too much to do. 

So many of these problems are easily correctable, but management must be committed to doing so and provide the necessary resources.

1)    Most HR people are totally untrained
Companies often assign or promote favored executives to the HR department as a reward and promotion for loyalty or good work.  Unfortunately, many of these people are untrained and remain so.\

There are a few HR people who have gone on to become SPHR (Senior Professional in   Human Resources) or higher, which requires several years of study to complete; companies should be encouraging its valued HR people to do further study.  However, in fairness, some of the best HR Directors I have met have had no serious training but they  "get" it. Unfortunately, they are in the minority..

2)    Many companies wrongly define HR primarily as recruiting
There is a lot more to Human Resources than finding and hiring people.  Certainly this is true of advertising. Many agencies, in an effort to upgrade, have hired qualified professionals from other industries to run the department, only to bog them down and saddle them with recruiting assignments. The result is that there is no real upgrade.  And qualified HR people spend the bulk of their time interviewing rather than their other important work.

3)    Most advertising agencies don’t grant HR a seat at the management table
Because there is more to HR than just recruiting, human resources should be an integral part of management, but rarely is.  There are aspects of HR which are mostly ignored or undervalued – succession planning, training, employee incentives and retention, conflict resolution, sensitivity training – are just a few areas which every firm should pay attention to.
4)    Employees are afraid to go to HR with problems
There is huge distrust among employees when it comes to human resources.  This has happened because all too often when there is a complaint about another employee, whether supervisor or subordinate, the issue is not handled confidentially or professionally and it turns into a confrontation or worse.  HR needs to be trained in conflict resolution.  This is also true when an employee has an issue with a company policy.

5)    Human Resources often gets saddled with all the extraneous jobs
HR is often given assignments by management which have little to do with their real jobs.  They often handle things like moves, blood drives, filling seats at events, the baseball team, company outings, holiday parties, office tours, time-sheet management, all of which take away from their real job and actually detract from their own reputation.

6)    All too often, HR actually is not fully conversant with the company’s products or culture.
As harsh as that is, too many human resources professionals join a company and receive no training or real orientation about the company.  For instance, it is not uncommon to find HR contract recruiters at a company who have never seen their products manufactured, have actually not met the people they are recruiting for and have never been properly inculcated into the company culture.  This is true in and out of advertising.  Few ad agency recruiters or other HR people have ever actually seen the agency’s creative work or new business presentation, so they never truly have a feeling for the culture or the product. At ad agencies, few HR people have actually spent time observing account people, planners, creative people and others who do the work so that they fully understand how to recruit for these people.
7)    Few HR managers are empowered to monitor and manage rotations and salary reviews
Over the years, I have interviewed hundreds of executives who are overdue for a salary increase or promotion, but have gotten caught in the cycle of new managers who don’t know them well enough to recommend timely raises or advancement.  That should be when HR is allowed to step in and manage the process, but it rarely happens.  It breeds resentment and the feeling that HR is impotent.

8)    In large companies, many employees don’t know who to contact if there is an issue 
HR professionals should be assigned to manage people.  Just like most companies have a benefits person or a payroll person in the HR department, there should be people in HR assigned to each employee as ombudsmen so that employees know who is looking out for them or managing their career.

9)    When important information is learned during exit interviews, it is rarely acted upon
One HR person confessed to me that she knew who all the problem employees were, but, “What can I do? Most of those people are senior vice presidents and higher”. Departing employees, although disconnected, can give wonderful perspective on issues within a company learned during exit interviews.  HR people should be empowered to act on that information.

I wrote about this a few years ago in a post called “What’s Wrong With HR”.  Today’s post is intended to put the issues into perspective.  If management fully values and backs its Human Resources Department and lets them do what they are supposed to do, I truly believe employee retention will increase along with company profits.

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